Johan Cruyff, the Dutch soccer superstar, died last week at the age of 68. Cruyff died at home — not in The Netherlands but in Barcelona. And if Cruyff’s playing legacy is great — he guided Holland to the 1974 World Cup Finals — his legacy is perhaps greater for spreading the gospel of the Dutch style (“total football”) far and wide — especially through his post-playing position with FC Barcelona. When Cruyff’s cancer first returned last October, the club called Cruyff “one of the greatest Barça icons of all time.”
Before Cruyff, Real Madrid was considered by most the premier Spanish international soccer powerhouse. But Cruyff put his signature on the Barcelona team, making them world class in the process. Cruyff hadn’t officially worked with FC Barcelona for years by the time he passed, but he remained a symbol of the team’s success and an ambassador of the game and the “total football” style. And, of course, he was a Barcelona resident. On Saturday Cruyff’s ghost will shadow Barca as it takes on chief rival Real Madrid in what’s known as El Clasico. Barca may have a spiritual advantage.